Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

points as Mr. Dutens, in his “ Enquiry into the Origin of the Discoveries attributed to the Moderns," or even as Dr. Good has done in his preface, and several of bis notes; yet I am not reluctant to allow, that with respect to nature, active and animated, to the corpuscular philosophy, the constitution of the milky way, the moon, the tides, the circulation of the blood, the existence of the Fallopian tubes, the sexual system of plants, the principles of sculpture, painting, and music, and some of our metaphysical theories, the ancients have preceded us by more than a mere adumbration; and that the perspicuous development of various trains of inquiry, thought to have been peculiar to the last century, in this great work of Lucretius, give to it an interest possessed by no other production of Roman genius, independently of that which is excited by its poetical merit.

That it has poetical merit, however, and that of the highest order, was declared by Cicero, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Gellius, and Cornelius Nepos, among the ancients; as well as by moderns of deserved reputation. Dr. Warton, especially, in his Dissertation on the Life and Writings of Pope, says, “The Persians distinguish the different degrees of the strength of fancy in different poets, by calling them painters or sculptors. Lucretius, from the force of his images, should be ranked among the latter. He is, in truth, a sculptor - poet. His writings have a bold relief." And again, in another dissertation, when devoting himself to a more complete exfoliation of the character and great production of this sculptor-poet, he says, “I am next to speak of Lucretius, whose merit has never yet been sufficiently displayed, and who seems

to have had more fire, spirit, and energy, more of the vivida vis animi, than any of the Roman poets, not excepting Virgil himself. Whoever imagines, with Tully, that Lucretius had not a great genius, is desired to cast his eye on two pictures he has given us at the beginning of his poem : the first of Venus, with her lover Mars, beautiful to the last degree, and more glowing than any picture painted by Titian; the second, of that terrible and gigantic figure, the demon of superstition, worthy the energetic pencil of Michael Angelo. Neither do I think that the description that immediately follows, of the sacrifice of Iphigenia, was excelled by the famous picture of Timanthes on the same subject, of which Pliny speaks so highly in the 35th book of his Natural History: especially the minute and moving circumstances of her perceiving the grief of her father Agamemnon, and of the priest's concealing his sacrificing knife, and of the spectators bursting into tears, and her falling on her knees. Few passages, even in Virgil himself, are so highly finished, contain such lively descriptions, or are so harmonious in their versification, as where our poet speaks of the fruitfulness occasioned throughout all nature by vernal showers, of the ravages committed by tempestuous winds," &c. The Doctor then proceeds briefly, but with commendation, to describe and select from the six books, into which the poem is divided.*

* The sentiments of Dionysius Lambinus, thc editor of the Paris edition of 1563–70, (whom Eichstadt characterises as “vir exquisitissimæ doctrinæ copiis, et singulari acumine præditus,”) being less known to the English reader than those of Warton, may without impropriety be inserted in this note.

“The poem of Lucretius, although he advances in it some opinions that are repugnant to our religion, is, nevertheless, a most beautiful poem, distinguished, illustrated, and adorned, with all the brilliancy of wit and fancy.

With an admiration of his author not inferior to that of Lambinus, and with a mind copiously imbued both with classical knowledge, and with the results of the arts and sciences of every polished nation, Dr. Good devoted himself to the translation and commentary of which I am now to speak.

A spirited preface, and a life of Lucretius, occupy about 130 pages of the first volume. In these he briefly adverts to preceding translations, and deduces

What, though Epicurus and Lucretius were impious in our views, are we who read them therefore impious ?"...."Since we daily read many things that are fabulous, incredible, and false, either to yield some respite to our minds, or to make us the more constantly to adhere to such as are true, what reason is there that we should despise Lucretius, a most elegant and beautiful poet, the most polite and the most ancient of all the Latin writers, from whom Virgil and Horace have, in many places, borrowed not half, but whole verses? When he descants upon the invisible corpuscles or first principles of things, on their motion, their various configuration, on the void, the images or tenuous membranes that fly off from the surface of all bodies, the nature of the mind and soul, the rising and setting of the planets, the nature of lightning, of the rainbow, the causes of diseases, and of many other things, he is learned, wise, judicious, and elegant. In the introductions to his books, in his similes, his examples, his disputations against the fear of death, concerning the inconveniences and the harms of love, in his account of sleep, and of dreams, he is copious, discreet, eloquent, and often sublime. We not only read Homer, but even commit his verses to memory, because, under the veil of fables, partly obscene, partly absurd, he has in a manner included the knowledge of all natural and human things. Why, then, shall we not hear Lucretius, who, without the disguise of fables and such trifles, not always indeed truly, nor piously, but plainly and openly, and in a style the most correct and pure, treats of the principles and causes of things, of the universe, of its parts, of a happy life, and of things celestial and terrestrial ?"....."How admirably does he discourse upon the restraining of pleasures, the curbing of the passions, and the attainment of tranquillity of mind! How wisely does he rebuke and confute those who affirm that nothing can be perceived, and nothing known! How beautiful are his descriptions! How graceful, as the Greeks call them, are his episodes ! How fine are his descriptions of colours, of mirrors, of the loadstone, and of the Averni ! How serious and impressive are his exhortations to live continently, justly, temperately, innocently! What shall we say of his diction, than which nothing can be imagined more pure, correct, perspicuous, or elegant. I scruple not to affirm, that in all the Latin language, no author writes Latin better than Lucretius, and that the diction, neither of Cicero nor of Cæsar, is more pure.”- Epistle Dediculory to Charles IX.

from their imperfections the necessity of his own. He also enters into an elaborate defence of the system of Epicurus, and skilfully, though not with entire success, defends him from the charge of atheism and irreligion. From this portion of the work I shall select a few passages, as indicative both of Dr. Good's manner and of his tone of thought, at the period in which they were written.

“In attentively perusing the poem before us, it is impossible to avoid noticing the striking resemblance which exists between many of its most beautiful passages, and various parts of the poetic books of the Scriptures: and the Abbè de St. Pierre, as well as several other continental writers, have hence considered Lucretius to have been acquainted with them. The idea, it must be confessed, is but little more than a conjecture, but it is a conjecture which may easily be defended. Virgil, who though considerably younger than Lucretius, was contemporary with him, and attained his majority on the very day of our poet's decease, was indisputably acquainted with the prophecies of Isaiah ; and Longinus, who flourished during the reign of Aurelian, quotes from the Mosaic writings by name. It is not difficult to account for such an acquaintance; for different books of the Bible, and especially those of the Pentateuch, appear to have been translated into Greek by the Jews themselves, at least three centuries anterior to the Christian æra, for the use of their brethren, who at that time were settled in Egypt, and other Grecian dependencies, and, residing among the Greeks, had adopted the Greek language. The Septuagint itself, moreover, was composed and published about the same period, by the express desire, and under the express patronage, of Ptolemy Phila

delphus; who, convinced of the importance and excellence of the Hebrew Scriptures, was desirous of diffusing a knowledge of them among the various classes of men of letters, who, at his own invitation, had now thronged to Alexandria from every quarter. Theocritus was at this time among the number, and largely partook of the liberality of the Egyptian monarch; and Sanctius seems fairly to have established it, that the labours of the Grecian idyllist are deeply imbued with the spirit, and evince manifest imitations of the language, of the Song of Songs. Dr. Hodgson has, indeed, ascended very considerably higher, and even challenges Anacreon with having copied, in a variety of instances, from this inimitable relic of the sacred poetry of Solomon. This accusation may, perhaps, be doubtful; but it would be easy to prove, if the discussion were necessary in the present place, that, during the dynasty of the Ptolemies, not only the muses of Aonia were indebted to the muse of Sion, but that the eclectic philosophy, which first raised its monster head within the same period, incorporated many of the wildest traditions of the Jewish rabbis into its chaotic hypothesis. The literary connexion which subsisted between Rome and Alexandria is well known; and it is not to be supposed that writings, which appear to have been so highly prized in the one city, would be received with total indifference in the other.

“ Be this, however, as it may; be the parallelisms I advert to, designed or accidental ; I trust I shall rather be applauded than condemned, for thus giving a loose to the habitual inclination of my heart. Grotius, Schultens, Lowth, and Sir William Jones, have set me the example, and, while treading in the steps of such

« ForrigeFortsæt »